The Astros don’t exactly have a great system, but there is some upside at the lower levels. In the Astros 5x5 rankings, we’ll look at their best long-term fantasy investments as well as a few players to specifically target for the 2012 season.Astros Top 5 Fantasy Prospects
1. Jonathan Singleton, 1B
Josh’s take: Singleton is a powerful first baseman who is just scratching the surface of translating batting practice raw power into a useful in game skill. Unlike many slugging first baseman, he has an approach that should lead to plus batting averages in the majors. He tops that skill set off with an already advanced awareness of the strikezone that has helped him walk at a high rate. He should open the year in Double-A, which is a big test for all prospects. If he takes to the level well, a projection of a 2013 summer major league debut is appropriate.
Charlie’s take: After Singleton went to the Astros organization in the Hunter Pence deal, I got to see him in person with his shift to the CAL League. Singleton is one of those players that stands out among the rest in the lower levels. He’s already big and strong with room to grow and can hit the ball a mile. That power really began to translate into games once the Phillies stopped experimenting with him in left field. His swing can get a bit long at times, which will lead to more strikeouts at the upper levels if not smoothed out. Still, the upside is that Singleton will become a premier slugger in the big leagues. He already has good plate discipline, which is a huge plus as he moves toward the majors.
2. George Springer, OF
Josh’s take: Springer is a rare college player that is loaded with tools, and still a bit raw. He's the type of prospect that would be a five-category contributor and high draft pick in fantasy leagues if everything clicks. However, he's also the type of prospect that flames out against advanced pitching and never reaches the majors. He signed early enough to play in eight Low-A games, and as a college draftee, will likely start 2012 with a full season minor league assignment.
Charlie’s take: As Josh wrote, Springer is far from a sure thing and we really won’t know what type of player he’s going to be until he faces advanced pitching. There’s 20/20 upside in his bat and his athleticism will make him a fun player to watch if everything comes together.
3. Jarred Cosart, SP
Josh’s take: Cosart has as electric an arm as there is in all of minor league baseball. The results simply haven't matched the stuff. He hasn't been putrid by any stretch, but he hasn't missed as many bats as one would expect from a pitcher with a plus fastball that sits in the mid-90s, and touches 97-98, as well as two secondary offerings that flash plus (curveball and change-up). His control is passable, but not without room for improvement. If everything comes together, he could be a starting pitcher that heads a rotation. His power arsenal would also play in a late innings capacity if he doesn't turn the corner as a starter.
Charlie’s take: Power arms like Cosart’s are always tantalizing, but throwing hard is one thing, missing bats with it is another. As Cosart moves to the upper levels, he’ll need to rely more on his curve and change rather than just blowing his fastball by opposing hitters. The upside is apparent, but a lack of results this past season as well as a questionable arm action keeps my personal expectations tempered a bit.
4. Jonathan Villar, SS
Josh’s take: Villar is an unshaped piece of clay that could one day be turned into something spectacular, or he could resemble something created in an elementary school art class. He strikes out too often now to hit for average, but he has the tools necessary to flirt with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases annually. Villar had 367 plate appearances at the Double-A level this year, but should repeat the level.
Charlie’s take: Shortstops with 20/20 potential don’t grow on trees, so Villar’s upside gives him a certain edge as far as fantasy rankings are concerned. That being said, he has major strikeout issues and isn’t likely to ever hit for much AVG or post particularly good OBPs. In other words, the upside is a long ways away from coming to fruition, if ever.
5. Domingo Santana, OF
Josh’s take: Santana has boatloads of raw power, and if the power plays, the player stays. He came on strong after being dealt from the Phillies to the Astros. Santana finished the year with five home runs in 76 plate appearances for Low-A Lexington. His swing has too much swing-and-miss in it now to hit for average, but he cut back on his strikeouts after changing organizations. As a 19 year old, he has time to iron those kinks out.
Charlie’s take: The light-tower power is great and all, but Santana has struck out in over 30 percent of his minor league plate appearances and not a single one of those appearances have come above the single-A level. If he can’t control the strike-zone or make contact at the lower levels, he’s definitely not going to be able to at the upper levels without a major adjustment. Most of the time hitters are who they are. Should that be the case with Santana, his big-time power will be a wasted talent.
Top 5 for 2012
1. Brett Oberholtzer, SP
Josh’s take: Oberholtzer came to the Astros as part of the Michael Bourn trade. He won't overwhelm viewers with his stuff, but attacks hitters with an upper-80s-to-low-90s fastball, curveball, slider and change-up. None of his pitches are plus offerings, but all are average and play up because of his excellent control and command. He was able to compile acceptable strikeout rates in the low minors, but saw that bottom out to 6.56 K/9 in Double-A for the Braves. That rate soared to 9.22 K/9 after the trade. If he's able to flirt with a league average strikeout rate, he could be a useful fantasy contributor in large mixed leagues and NL-only formats.
2. Kyle Weiland, SP/RP
Josh’s take: Weiland came with Jed Lowrie in return for Mark Melancon. He struggled in his first taste of the majors with the Red Sox, but was pressed into action a bit before he was ready. His ceiling is limited to a fourth or fifth starter. He makes up for a lowish ceiling by being close to reaching it. A bit more minor league seasoning may be necessary, but he'll throw for the Astros this year.
Charlie's take: I’ve never really seen Weiland as anything more than a back-end starter, but his game might translate well to the bullpen. He has a good fastball that could probably sit in the mid 90’s as a reliever. Weiland still has a long way to go in terms of his control, which is another reason a bullpen role might be evident. The upside here is that the Astros closer situation is wide open and “throws hard” is something managers like to see from their closers.
3. Juan Abreu, RP
Josh’s take: Abreu came with Oberholtzer as part of the return for Bourn. He reached the majors last year, and flashed the strikeout potential that makes him intriguing right out of the gate. He is a flamethrower with erratic control. Abreu walked three batters in 6.1 innings, and hit another five batters, ouch. He finds himself ranked on the 2012 top five because there is an outside chance he saves some games for an Astros team that lacks a definitive closer.
Charlie’s take: With the Astros’ closer role up for grabs “throws hard, misses bats” is enough of a starting point to consider Abreu as a canidate for saves. As Josh stated, his control can be almost non-existent at times, but strikeouts can sometimes make up for a lot of mistakes (See: Marmol, Carlos circa 2009-2010).
4. J.B. Shuck, OF
Josh’s take: Shuck played in 37 games for the Astros this past season, and should be in the mix for a starting outfield job in the spring. On a better team, he'd profile as a fourth outfielder. His best attributes are his above average speed, and outstanding pitch recognition that leads to bloated walk rates. He has hit for high averages in the minors, but they come with zero pop. Shuck's fantasy value will be limited, but could be existent in extremely large leagues and NL-only formats.Charlie’s take: Cheap steals. That’s the only reason to even put Shuck on your radar. He has shown good enough walk rates to be able to get on base, but the downside is that his stolen base success rates are quite poor. Maybe he works on his stolen base skills this spring and maybe he turns into a cheap source of 30 steals…maybe.
5. Jarred Cosart, SP - If the light goes on, he could be a summertime promotion candidate. No other starting pitchers in the system offer Cosart’s upside for immediate impact, which is why he sort of has to make this list be default.